“The beauty of a master class is to have everyone engaged,” said voice teacher Patricia Koch Budlong, who directed the Spanish Art Song Master Class.
The hour long master class was held in the recital hall at the Baker Center for the Arts, on Wednesday, Sept. 26. After auditioning last spring, four Muhlenberg vocal students were chosen to perform a Spanish song that they learned with their voice teachers. The performers comprised both music and Spanish students. This gave them great practice for their performance in front of a group of high school students the following evening. Director Budlong gave them advice on how to improve their performances. For some of the students, it was their first time working with Budlong. Piano accompaniment was performed by Dr. Barbara Golden.
Budlong gave advice that did not only pertain to the singers, but also to the audience, such as not commenting on your work while you are doing it and how singers are geniuses; when they tell their brains to do something, their voices listen.
“We tell our brain what to do with our voice; it’s like writing a code and letting it run,” explained Budlong.
Soprano Julia Baker ’19 sang “Olas Gigantes” (“Giant Waves”), composed by Manuel de Falla. The song is based on a dramatic poem that tells about a woman who was left by her lover and is contemplating walking into the sea during a hurricane to escape the suffering she feels. Regardless of whether or not the audience members are able to understand Spanish, Baker’s facial expressions and dynamics revealed the emotions of the piece. Baker has been singing since she was twelve years old, but this was her first time singing a Spanish song.“
I actually haven’t sung in Spanish before, but I flatter myself in thinking that I speak Italian conversationally … The romance languages are all relatively similar to one another, so the transition from Italian to Spanish music wasn’t a huge culture shock,” said Baker, who takes weekly voice lessons with Budlong. “If anything, learning Italian and singing in Spanish has improved my knowledge of the English language more than my fluency in either language.”
Soprano Hannah Polaski ’21 sang “Cantares” by Joaquin Turina, which is about a woman who is tormented by her simultaneous fear and love for a man. Polaski said that she was nervous
in the beginning, but began to feel more comfortable after a while. This Spanish piece taught her that singers need to be fully present within the story and emotions of the song in every note.
“Attending a master class really opens you up to the process of learning a song, and can help you look at your own singing differently.
Performing in one can make you more comfortable with an audience and being vulnerable on stage, while also getting valuable feedback on your performance,” said Polaski, who takes weekly voice lessons with Megan Durham.
Even though Polaski studied Spanish on and off during most of her life, she explained that the different phrasing of Spanish makes her have to think about every word, as opposed to English music where she tends to not spend as much time thinking about each individual phrase.
The master class not only benefited the four performers, but the audience as well; all learned and were very engaged, having had the opportunity to give feedback to the performers.
Audience member Marc Szechter ’22 had never attended a master class before last Wednesday’s program. As a student enrolled in music theory, he is required to attend a certain number of music department events. Szechter has been singing in choirs for a majority of his life, but decided to take formal vocal lessons for the first time when he arrived to Muhlenberg this semester.
“I learned a lot about how the way that one sings a particular passage can affect the emotion it conveys. One can sing the same notes twice with different dynamics and it can feel completely different each time,” said Szechter.
The master class allowed even those who were not singing to learn some techniques for improving their performance.
“I really love the storytelling aspect of the performance; the combination of music and acting makes engaging art,” said Polaski.